In Part 1, “Sam” Weng traveled to Mars, posing as a water plant engineer, hoping to promote his architectural designs. But the Martian Overseer had other designs…
Um,” he said, touching the computer workstation nearest him. “These figures seem…acceptable. So…”
Velasquez put his thumbs into his jacket front pockets and smiled.
Weng glanced at the cart, then at the shovel. He had it.
“Workers,” he said. “There aren’t enough workers to get the quantities of dirt necessary to operate the water reclamation system properly.”
“Yes,” Velaquez said, beaming. He waggled a finger at Weng. “I knew you were a man of intellect. You’re exactly correct. In order to support a larger colony population, we need several crews to excavate literally tons of Martian regolith. Our earth-moving equipment is useless without workers.”
“But what about the ice cap?” Weng asked. “I thought there was enough water locked up there for centuries of colonists.”
“Locked up, yes,” Velasquez agreed. “Locked up by the United Americas Armed Forces stationed at the only operating ice factory on Mars. The UA insists that all reclaimed ice water be used for fuel creation.
He put his hands back in his pockets. “But we can’t drink that water, anyway. The ice cap water has too much irradiation for our purposes.”
He took a step closer to Weng and continued, “Of course, I shouldn’t have to tell you that. As a hydroengineer, you should know already.”
Weng caught the meaning immediately. He stood still, furiously thinking of what to say.
“You’re not an engineer,” Velasquez said softly. He kept his smile. “Even the Lunar Base uses a water reclamation and filtration system such as this. It’s been well-known for decades now.
“Of course,” he said, gesturing to the water tanks, “most of our reclaimed water wouldn’t be in these tanks for long. The system is designed to use the natural bedrock to filter our impurities. These tanks are to disinfect and treat recycled sewage water, mixed in with water reclaimed from the regolith. We dare not use open-face tanks until the terraforming is well under way and the atmosphere forms properly to prevent sublimation.”
Weng felt his hands forming into fists. When would the other shoe drop?
Velasquez shook his head. “It’s of no matter,” he said. “We do not need more hydroengineers.”
“I know that you are an architect, Mr. Weng. A very good one, but one with a certain, shall we say, ambition. Grandiose ideas. Is that not true?”
Weng nodded curtly. “I regret the subterfuge, Overseer. I meant no disrespect.”
Velasquez smiled more broadly. “On the contrary,” he said, “I am pleased that you went to such trouble simply to find a position here in the Mars Colonies. Why give up an important job on Luna for this?”
He shook his head again.
“No, Mr. Weng. Sam. We have need of skilled individuals such as yourself. I will agree to give you a place on our water reclamation plant team so that you may remain on Mars.”
Weng relaxed and finally breathed out.
“Under one condition,” Velasquez added.
Weng started. “Condition?”
“Yes,” the politician answered. He darted glances about the room before motioning Weng closer.
“We have two or three groups of incoming settlers in a few days,” he said in a softer voice, as if not wanting the technicians to overhear. “Some are from the UA. Some are Indian. Some European.”
“That sounds potentially volatile,” Weng responded. “Even as a non-politician, I can understand that much.”
“Yes,” Velasquez said. “But we need these people. Mars needs water, and Mars also needs workers. Thanks to the UA lockout on the ice factories here, we’ve been obliged to get all our water from the plants on Ceres. It’s costing the UN an arm and a leg. If we could process our own potable water, right here…”
“I think I get the picture, Overseer,” said Weng dully. This didn’t sound like architectural work to him. Nor engineering work.
“Martin,” the Overseer said, clapping him on the shoulder. “I can’t talk to the settlers. I need a neutral, third party. Somebody who speaks for one of the Allied Forces.”
“Me?” Weng said, smiling. “I’m no Allied Forces representative. You’re the United Nations appointed Overseer of the Joint Martian Colonies. Why can’t you speak with new settlers?”
“Sam. When you look at me, what do you see?”
Weng looked. He held his tongue.
Velasquez persisted. “What do you see? What kind of person?”
“My ancestry is Japanese,” Velasquez said. He clipped the word, as if reluctant to say it. “My family moved to Peru when I was young.”
“I see,” Weng said slowly. Why was this person telling him this? Private information was not meant to be shared so openly among strangers.
“You are Chinese,” Velasquez continued. “But like the rest of my relatives, you and your people stayed in the alliance.”
He stopped and seemed on the verge of losing his composure. Weng thought he saw the briefest glimpse of anger cross the Overseer’s face.
“I cannot speak to settlers from the United Americas, China, or Japan,” Velasquez said bitterly. “I cannot risk anyone recognizing my name.”
Weng tilted his head and frowned.
“Velasquez does not sound too terribly—”
“My wife’s name,” the politician said. He fell silent.
Weng pondered. A name that was too dangerous to mention aloud, too recognizable to say even to settlers, who likely would not be anywhere near a position of power or authority. He wondered if the Overseer suffered from sort of of paranoia.
Well, he thought, perhaps he could use this to his advantage. Chai mao qui cui, one should never blow the hair and search for ticks.
“All right,” he conceded, trying not to sound too enthusiastic. “I will talk with them.”
The Overseer immediately brightened. He clasped Weng’s right hand with both his hands and shook it vigorously.
“Excellent, excellent. I believe this is the start of a beautiful friendship!”
Weng inwardly groaned, but outwardly smiled.
“Thank you, Overseer,” he said, as sincerely as possible. “I look forward to working together with you, and with the water plant team.”
“I’ll have the papers drawn up by the end of the day,” Velasquez said. He motioned back to the entrance. “Now, let’s see if we can find you some accommodations. Not as grand as Luna conapts, I’m afraid, but I think you’ll find it pleasant enough.”
“Papers?” Weng repeated, as they returned to the corridor. He began to think that he’d never get used to the labyrinthian underground maze of walkways.
Velasquez gestured with both hands and shrugged. “Not to worry, just a formality. A contract is necessary, you understand. That’s the way we do things here on Mars.”
A contract. Ah, well, politics and business were never too far apart. Perhaps he could somehow squeeze in a reference to future architectural work on his part.
The Overseer continued to lecture him on the history of the Mars Colonies, the various factions already living in separate but equal domed sections, the disputes he might expect from newcomers. But all Weng could think about was how he would explain this to Riss.
His new position entailed supporting a process that sought to eliminate the need for water from asteroids.
His next vid message would need…tact.
Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter Five: Riss